January 2020 | Commentary | Good Question

Good Question: Will the Supply Chain Management Function Be Obsolete in 10 Years? Why or Why Not?

Tags: Supply Chain Management, Technology

Zero chance. Supply chain success is dependent upon human relationships, collaboration, partnerships, leading and influencing, servicing customers, and the like. Robots, algorithms, and other new technologies will make certain jobs obsolete, but not the function of supply chain itself.

—Rodney Apple
Founder & Managing Partner–Executive Supply Chain Recruiter
SCM Talent Group


YES. My response depends on the job and function. SCM is not different from other areas and technology makes a major impact. So, the answer is yes, the jobs of the future in the SCM area will be different and some of the current tasks/jobs can be eliminated/modified drastically due to advanced robotics and AI in the SCM system.

—Dr. Maling Ebrahimpour
Dean, College of Business
Alfred J. Verrecchia-Hasbro
Leadership Chair
The University of Rhode Island


Digitization will bring the death of supply chain management. In a digitized supply chain, companies can capture, analyze, and integrate high-quality, real-time data that enables automation, IoT, predictive analytics, AI, and robotics. Supply chain management—and by default, supply chain managers—will require a completely different skill set and capability.

In 2020, supply chain leaders will shift from managing people to designing and managing information. Concepts like digital control towers will continue to be adapted.

—Ron Volpe
VP, Apps Business Development
Tradeshift


Even as AI/machine learning continues to take more of a role in the supply chain, in an industry as complex as ours, there will always be a need for the human aspect.

As efficient and liberating as technology is, it can't replace the value of veteran industry professionals who have historical knowledge of transportation cycles or a trusted partner who can shape individualized solutions on the fly.

—Micah Holst
President
Ascent International



Technology is constantly creating new supply chain efficiencies, and with each technological evolution, employees can redeploy to revenue-generating activities.
But these changes won't make supply chain management obsolete in the next decade. There will always be a relationship component to supply chain management that cannot be easily replicated.

—Brian Thompson
Chief Commercial Officer
SMC3


A big, capital-lettered NO. Three reasons: First, by nature and definition, supply chains integrate a number of critical operations including procurement, manufacturing, distribution, inventory management, warehousing, order fulfillment, and demand satisfaction and management. As we continue to generate more data and integrate more operations internally within firms and externally among supply chain partners, we will need the insights from supply chain management to guide our path.

Second, as new marketing and sales channels emerge, we need supply chain management to fulfill customer desires and requirements. For example, we owe the success of omnichannel businesses to the expertise built within supply chain management. We will see more companies improving their supply chain capabilities to respond to omnichannel requirements.

Finally, while a decade or two ago, supply chain management was not a mainstream business functionality, now it is. Thanks to the success of companies such as Amazon, Walmart, UPS, Intel, and Zara, students are aware of career possibilities within a supply chain. While we have a talent gap within supply chain management, we also have an increased awareness among millennials to serve in this field.

—Burcu B. Keskin
Professor, Operations Management
Reese Phifer Fellow in Operations/Manufacturing
ISM Associate Department Head
The University of Alabama


Supply chain management performs significant functions: management and alignment of resources and materials, integration and coordination processes, and design of complex logistics systems. Even though the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics expects only 2% growth between 2014 and 2024 for logisticians (often supply chain managers), there will be continued demand.

—Dr. Charles M. Russo, IFPC
Full-Time Faculty,
College of Safety & Emergency Services
Columbia Southern University


Automation requires a lot of human involvement to be optimal. We have automated drop ship onboarding processes for years and the automation always ends up supporting, not replacing, clients' onboarding teams.

—Azad Sadr
Director of Communications, Dsco


While automation and other technologies are increasingly utilized in supply chain, the supply chain management function will still exist in 10 years and actually be more important to a company's ability to compete. However, supply chain management leaders and teams will need different skills than in the past, as seen by the rise in data analytics within supply chain programs at universities.

—Chris Gutierrez
President, Kansas City SmartPort


No. With AI and machine learning, we'll be capable of putting more pressure on supply chains with less human interaction. However, we'll need to increase our analytical and deduction skill sets to make decisions quickly and extract as much profit as possible from our increasingly complex supply chains.

—Ashley Yentz
Vice President of Supply Chain Solutions
LeanCor Supply Chain Group


It won't. Looking back, people felt ERPs were enough to drive company operations. Big mistake. Data processing will never replace the human knowledge, adaptability, interpretation, and analysis needed in the SCM field.

—Carlos Rangel, MSSCM, CSCP
Supply Chain Management, Procurement, Warehousing and Logistics Professional


Three key functions of SCM—production, sourcing, and logistics—are fundamental to cost efficiency (expenses) and customer responsiveness (revenues). Therefore, the SCM function will continue thriving because it encompasses inter-organizational perspectives and pivotal activities vital to financial performance.

—Gerard Burke, Ph.D.
Parker College of Business
Georgia Southern University


SCM will be alive and well in 10 years since it involves multi-organizational linked processing actions that transform raw materials into a product provided to customers. There is no apparent way that all the required transforming actions could be done in one action, link, or step.

—Paul Battaglia, DBA, CIA, MPM
Associate Professor (Virtual Campus)
Program Director for Masters in Logistics Management, Florida Institute of Technology






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